The Dovedale Towers
Liverpool pub The Dovedale Towers has hit upon a winning formula with its friendly welcome, a great range of beers, mouth watering roasts and music nights.
Having been immortalised in song by some popular beat combo by the name of The Beatles (no, us neither), Penny Lane in Liverpool is one of the most famous roads in the world.
Fitting then, that it should house one of the city’s finest pubs — the Dovedale Towers. A former town house, church hall, hotel, orphanage and Russian Embassy, the Dovey, as it’s affectionately known, is a popular spot on any Beatles tour of Liverpool (the band both played and rehearsed on the site, while John Lennon spent time nearby as a child).
Having had an extensive makeover earlier this century, the Dovey has hit upon a winning formula for a contemporary neighbourhood pub – a winning combination of old school pub pursuits (excellent drinks and a lively and friendly atmosphere) and modern offerings (entertainment, food and a wider range of sports screened).
We paid a visit to the Dovedale and spoke to assistant manager Toby Kinearly about how its gets the balance right between being a great suburban pub that looks after its locals and a place to come and watch all the latest sporting action.
Improvements made: “In the last two years, we’ve installed two new car parks, which in turn has led to a new beer garden with a fire pit which comes into its own in the summer. We can do barbecues and spit roasts — things like that. We’ve tried to keep it as intact as possible inside — the floor is authentic, as is the stage. We want to preserve those things. Recently we had the back room made over — the Lodge Room we call it. It’s for families or for big parties — we’ve had people watching the football in there.”
Screens: “Five. We’ve got two more that we can put up. We also have speakers outside so when people go out for a cigarette they can still hear the commentary”
It’s family friendly: “It’s not a Wacky Warehouse, but at the same time we encourage families to come down. In the summer we have things set up for kids. Dogs too — we’re a dog-friendly pub.”
It’s a big, big football pub: “It’s what we’ve always done. Football and Liverpool especially, is a big selling point. We used to have a team upstairs called The Redmen who make a small TV show — they’ve got their own channel. They used to film upstairs, but they’ve had to move somewhere bigger because their show has got quite big and we didn’t have the space to accommodate them anymore. All those guys drink in here — and they’d bring their guests and pundits in with them. It’s a very authentic Liverpool pub. Don’t get me wrong we’re Everton too, but if push comes to shove I’d say it was a Liverpool pub.”
“It’s like a tiny bit of Anfield in here”
Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes: “During the week, it’s very touristy. We get lots of parties in here. This pub has a lot of connections to the Beatles. Before they were the Beatles they were The Silver Beatles and they played in a function room we used to have outside. There’s talk that they even performed in here on the stage, but I’m not sure that’s been verified. They certainly practised and performed in the old function room. When this was a hotel in the 60s, Freddie Mercury stayed here for a few months.”
It’s definitely a locals’ pub: “Lots of locals come in – it’s all very friendly. We’re also pulling in a lot of young professionals too – postgrads, upwardly mobile. People of that nature. Then we have the core demographic of middle class locals, ranging from 35 to 55, I’d say. At the weekend it’s transformed. If Liverpool are on the TV — particularly if they’re playing away from home — it’s a packed out place. It’s always friendly; it’s always lively. When it’s heaving out here I try and encourage them to try the new room out the back — but many prefer being packed in here because of the lively atmosphere.”
Screening sport is incredibly important: “We show most sports – apart from boxing, which requires security and it’s generally on after we’ve closed. We’re all sportsmen who work here — five of us play rugby. We’ll show anything that people want us to show.”
The atmosphere when Liverpool are playing is incredible: “It’s like a hurricane! Derby day is something else — as is Liverpool versus Manchester United. It can be a ghost town in here with 15 minutes to kick off, and then boom, it’s like a coach load of fans turn up at once. It’s packed to the rafters and you can feel the atmosphere. You can hear the chat – ‘How’s Benteke doing?’ — and when the players come out onto the pitch everyone is clapping. It’s like a tiny bit of Anfield in here.”
There are always football tourists: “We have at least one or two tables of people from abroad for each game. They’re all kitted out in the gear and have all the merchandise.”
Football means business: “January can be really quiet — midweek we can just have one manager and one member of staff on. But you can’t do that when Liverpool are playing Arsenal. We’ve got a full team on tonight.”
“Since the Champions League games have been exclusive to BT Sport we’ve had more people coming in”
The pub was open when Liverpool won in Istanbul: “It was a different incarnation of the Dovedale, but I imagine it was a crazy night.”
No security: “It’s very friendly in here. We don’t have any trouble. We want people to feel reassured that there’s no trouble. Sometimes when you have two big guys standing outside it can set the wrong tone.”
The Rugby World Cup was a big success: “We really saw what our demographic was during that tournament. We realised that as much as we’re a football pub, we’re also a rugby pub. The football crowd and rugby crowd are very different. We sponsor a university rugby team — they don’t have a clubhouse so they come here every Saturday after their games. We provide a bit of food for them and they bring everyone here and spend a lot of money. We try and show European rugby. As long as it doesn’t clash with Liverpool or Everton we’re very flexible.”
Barcelona or Real Madrid are always popular: “We show it all.”
It gets more people coming in when it’s a BT Sport match: “Since the Champions League games have been exclusive to BT and not free-to-air we’ve had more people coming in. It’s beneficial, because a lot of the time people don’t realise it’s on TV if it’s not on Sky or free-to-air. We’ve made a virtue of that on social media in the past. We have publicised the fact that we have BT and that certain games/sports are on BT and we’ll be screening them.”
“We’ll take pictures of those beautiful dishes and then put them up on social media”
Food’s a really big aspect: “We’re looking at ways to tie it in with the football too — some kind of football meal deal. We’re always looking to adapt and innovate wherever possible. Because when the game is on ordering food can slow down — sometimes the bar is three or four deep.”
It’s not pub grub: “It’s not two meals for a fiver or anything like that. We do very good food. Gastro food. It’s up there with fine dining – we back our food. The roasts on a Sunday are incredibly popular. We get a rib of beef and lamb in and they’re always gone by 3pm. It’s a premium roast. The chefs start making the stock on Tuesday or Wednesday.”
It loves craft beer: “We’re very flexible with the beers we can have in. Especially those from around the world. We like to have local beers on too — at present we’ve got one called Yellow Submarine. It looks great, tastes great and ties in with the Beatles. Generally, we move with the seasons and the times. We keep an eye on the trends and change drinks quite regularly.”
Music is another angle on offer: “It goes down really well. On Friday nights we currently have a guy called Charlie Airey — he’s an up and coming kid from Liverpool. He’s really cool, he gets the vibe here. We also do a more chilled music session on Sundays.”
It plays host to a book club: “They hire the Lodge twice a month. It’s very mellow and laidback there, so perfect for them to discuss their books. We’ve had games nights in the past too.”
What makes a great pub in 2016?: “It’s not just about alcohol. You need relatable staff – they have to connect with the people they serve. The establishment itself has to be spotless. Responsible and capable staff. A good environment. The décor has to be right – even down to the lighting. The music has to be right. You’re trying to create an experience for everyone that comes in. Word of mouth is so crucial these days, and of course everyone is a critic in 2016 — especially with social media.”
Music, food and football — they’re the three things it upsells on social media: “Social media is huge as far as this industry is concerned. We have a dedicated person who works on the platforms — she is our media strategist. We’ve got passionate chefs who like to come up with new dishes every week so we’ll take pictures of those beautiful dishes and then put them up on social media. Soon after we’ll have people coming in asking for those dishes.”
Its locals are all over Twitter: “We have a quiz in here hosted by Woody the quiz guy. He does things over Twitter all the time and we’ll retweet those – it helps in the quiz. So all our locals are all over Twitter too.”
Bars that don’t use social media are missing a trick: “Completely and utterly. Don’t get me wrong, if a pub is so busy that they don’t need to worry about it, then fantastic, but if a pub is looking for a way to bring in a new demographic, even just to make people aware of what is going on then it’s key. A lot of people don’t know what is going on — they only have brief windows. If they see something on Twitter from their local it can stick in their brain. It’s a massive, massive tool in this industry.”